Despite being connected by nine bridges and -- since the late 19th century -- a single name, Buda and Pest are distinct and sprawling cities. The former's giant, gentle green hills, ensnared by concrete highways, hide challenging hikes, a picturesque medieval village around V?rhegy Castle Hill, the best views of Pest's eclectic, spired skyline, and the priceless, eerie Szobor Park where statues of old Soviet and Communist leaders have been unceremoniously deposited (XXII Szabadkai ?t, Buda; 227-7446; 1500 Ft; 10 a.m.-dusk daily).
Across the Danube river, Pest bustles with the Hungarian State Opera, heartily spiced goulash stews, Europe's oldest metro, and beautifully faded Art Deco architecture. By night, this half pours itself outside -- weather permitting -- to drink local microbrews in the open-air beer gardens it claims to have invented. Together, Budapest is considered one of the continent's most beautiful cities and many will attest that it is currently undergoing a lively renaissance.
While constant controversy and violence have plagued Budapest Prides for the last few years, the city remains among the most liberal, safe places in Eastern and Central Europe -- matched by Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Prague. In an important step in 2008, police were praised for physically protecting marchers as protesters threw eggs, paint, cobblestones, and petrol bombs.
Resilience is key in Budapest, as much for capitol culture in general as for the queer scene. The city's unique cosmopolitanism has withstood Romans, Magyars, Mongols, Turks, Habsburgs, and Soviets and will withstand recent homophobia as well.
The city's LGBT bar and club scene, while small compared to Paris or London's, remains active, drawing queer folks from neighboring Central and Eastern European countries, and a form of civil unions has been legal since 1996. Effective in 2009, new legislation will guarantee these unions the same rights as married spouses except for joint adoption.
Owned and operated by an openly gay Hungarian chef and former 5-star hotel executive, the Kapital Inn (1062 Budapest, 30 Aradi ?tca, Pest; 36-30-931-10-23; 79+ Euro) bed and breakfast is the top choice for LGBT accommodations in Budapest. The 19th-century building offers wireless Internet, a terrace, complimentary drinks and snacks whenever you feel peckish, fresh baked breakfasts, and priceless advice on current queer nightlife.
Perhaps the first -- it opened in 1896 -- word in Budapest luxury, the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal (H-1073 Budapest, Erzs?bet krt. 43-49, Pest; 36-1-479-40-00; 150+ EUR) consistently ranks among the top hotels in the world. Amenities include a hi-tech spa that pre-dates the hotel, two cocktail lounges, two restaurants, two streetside caf?s, and regular wine-tastings.
Part One | Part Two